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Steve Borthwick is hoping to make a real impact in his second campaign at the helm having had preciously little time to work with his players after being hired to replace the sacked Eddie Jones last year.
England underwhelmed massively during the Six Nations once again 12 months ago, going on to endure a truly miserable summer that already led to questions over Borthwick’s tenure before a surprising run to the World Cup semi-finals in France in the autumn gave way to fresh optimism.
However, some of that new-found positivity is being sorely tested by an ongoing injury crisis, while England no longer have Owen Farrell to call upon amid his break from Test match rugby, as well as other seasoned campaigners such as Courtney Lawes, Jonny May, Mako Vunipola and record caps holder Ben Youngs, who have all retired from the international arena following the World Cup.
Regardless of those issues, England are still strong favourites to get off to a handsome winning start against an Italy team who will be expected to collect the Six Nations wooden spoon for the ninth year in a row.
The Azzurri were winless last time out and had preciously little to shout about at the World Cup as they were absolutely pummelled by both hosts France and New Zealand in a tough pool, giving up 96 points to the latter in humiliating fashion.
Former Argentina fly-half Gonzalo Quesada has replaced Kiwi Kieran Crowley at the helm following another stint coaching with Stade Francais in the Top 14.
Italy vs England date, kick-off time and venue
Italy vs England takes place on Saturday February 3, 2024, with kick-off scheduled for 2:15pm GMT.
The match will be hosted at the iconic Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
How to watch Italy vs England
TV channel: Italy vs England is being shown live in the UK free-to-air on ITV1, with coverage beginning at 1:30pm.
Live stream: You can catch a free live stream online via the ITVX app and website.
Live blog: Follow minute-by-minute updates with Standard Sport’s live match blog, featuring expert analysis from rugby correspondent Nick Purewal at the ground.
Italy vs England team news
England are nervously waiting to discover if a calf injury suffered at a pre-Six Nations training camp in Girona this week will keep Marcus Smith out for the whole championship, with the Harlequins star having been slated to fill the Farrell void at fly-half.
George Ford gets the call without Marcus Smith, with uncapped Northampton star Fin Smith set for his Test debut off the bench alongside the likes of Harlequins flanker Chandler Cunningham-South and Exeter wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, who was also eligible for Wales.
There are two debutants in the first XV in Exeter flanker Ethan Roots, who fills the huge void left by Lawes’ retirement, and Northampton centre Fraser Dingwall.
Scrum-half Alex Mitchell has made an unexpected late recovery from an infected cut in his leg, starting at 9 with veteran Danny Care in reserve.
Jack van Poortvliet is out, while form centre Ollie Lawrence has a hip problem and joins the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Bevan Rodd, Luke CowanâDickie, George Martin, Anthony Watson, Raffi Quirke and Nick Isiekwe on the sidelines.
England’s loosehead issues have at least eased with the likes of Ellis Genge and Joe Marler back fit. Tom Roebuck and Oscar Beard, who is currently recovering from concussion, are the other uncapped players in the tournament group.
The RFU’s ongoing rule regarding not selecting overseas-based players for England duty means that Borthwick is missing the likes of Henry Arundell, David Ribbans, Joe Marchant, Jack Willis, Jack Nowell and Sam Simmonds.
For Italy, still captained by Benetton flanker Michele Lamaro, centre Tommaso Menoncello is back in a young squad after missing the World Cup due to a biceps injury.
Simone Ferrari, Paolo Odogwu, Dino Lamb and Marco Riccioni are all sidelined, with call-ups for uncapped quintet Matteo Nocera, Luca Rizzoli, Mirco Spagnolo, Alessandro Izekor and Ross Vintcent.
Prop Spagnolo will make his debut off the bench against England, while Alessandro Garbisi is preferred to Gloucester’s Stephen Varney as he lines up at half-back alongside brother Paolo, with Tommaso Allan at full-back.
Federico Ruzza is primed to earn his 50th senior Italy cap in the second row.
Italy were forced into two late changes on Friday, with star man Ange Capuozzo missing through illness in a major blow.
He’s replaced by Lorenzo Pani, with Federico Mori coming onto the bench. Back-rower Edoardo Iachizzi is injured so Izekor takes his seat among the replacements as he bids for a first cap.
Italy vs England lineups
England XV: Steward; Freeman, Slade, Dingwall, Daly; Ford, Mitchell; Marler, George (c), Stuart; Itoje, Chessum; Roots, Underhill, Earl
Replacements: Dan, Genge, Cole, Coles, Cunningham-South, Care, F Smith, Feyi-Waboso
Italy XV: Allan; Pani, Brex, Menoncello, Ioane; P Garbisi; A Garbisi; Fischetti, Lucchesi, Ceccarelli; N Cannone, Ruzza; Negri, Lamari (c), L Cannone
Replacements: Nicotera, Spagnolo, Zilocchi, Zambonin, Izekor, Zuliani, Varney, Pani
Italy vs England head to head (h2h) history and results
England have beaten Italy in every match ever played between the two nations, dating back to their first meeting in 1991.
They won 33-0 on their last trip to Rome in 2022, while the 31-14 victory at Twickenham last February was their first under Borthwick.
Italy wins: 0
England wins: 30
Italy vs England prediction
Injuries continue to derail Borthwick’s best-laid plans for Rome and he now faces an important decision at fly-half with Marcus Smith sidelined.
Does he go with the tried, tested and battle-hardened Ford, or rather hand the keys to an exciting young talent in Fin Smith?
Regardless, England should still cruise to a comfortable victory over an inexperienced Italy team starting yet another new cycle under Gonzalo Quesada.
Though no one really expected them to shock either France or the All Blacks, the nature of those World Cup losses was a real horror show for the Azzurri and they have to put it out of their minds, fast.
They may well keep things competitive here for a while as they so often do at home, but expect England to eventually pull well clear for an emphatic opening triumph.
England to win, by 20 points.
Italy vs England match odds
Italy to win: 15/2
England to win: 1/12
Odds via Betfair (subject to change).